Archive for May, 2007

Respecting your business

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Lest you all think I just talk the talk, I wanted to share with you and example of how I walk it as well. Today I got an email from someone I had never heard of, with a return address of something obscure like “Betty@reachme.net,” which read, with no intro or anything, “What are your consulting rates?” There was no sig beyond the sender’s name–no way of easily knowing if this was a photographer, a phisher, or what and, more importantly, no way for me to pre-qualify this person as an appropriate client for my business. I replied with an email saying:
Before I send off that info, I’d like to know more about what you are looking for. It may very well be that we aren’t a good match or that you want something I don’t really offer. I am also uncomfortable sending pricing information without any idea of who you are and what you do. I don’t work with everyone who contacts me (for *many* reasons) and I could save us both time and effort by knowing, for example, that you shoot fashion exclusively (I almost never work with fashion-only shooters).

So please take a moment to let me know what you are hoping to get out of working with a consultant and then I can see how best to serve you or, if we’re not a good match, who I might suggest instead.

I received a reply that said, essentially, that the author was surprised by my bluntness but would “play along for a bit,” and then briefly described a photo business that could use some help and asked about working with reps. There was still no website provided and the fact that the author didn’t like my tone, well, that pretty much made it clear that this was probably not a good client for me. I replied with this email:

I’m sorry to have come across unpleasantly blunt–there was nothing personal about it, but I regret that it made you uncomfortable. I simply do not work with people I don’t think I can best help and so I can often save people (including me) time and energy by doing things like getting an idea of their needs and seeing their work (usually on their sites) on first contact. It is extremely unusual for someone to contact me without saying “I’m a photographer…here is my site” or at least having a professional-looking sig with contact info including a web address at the end of the email. When that doesn’t happen, I have concerns. Your email was, from the receiver’s end, rather fishy looking. No one before you has ever emailed me asking only “what are your rates;” rather, they begin a conversation, usually about their work and their needs, that ends with “I’d like to know more about how you work, your rates, etc.”

As I advise my clients, when a client’s first concern is cost, they are probably not a good client to work with. Clearly, your email rang that warning bell as well. I want the people who work with me to want to work with me–not to choose me because I’m cheaper than any of my colleagues out there. I do not compete on price. Ever. I respect my colleagues and my own business too much to do so.

There is also a need for a consultant and client to have a matching, comfortable, open communication style–that almost impossible-to-describe emotional connection. As you find my style blunt, I have concerns we won’t be a good fit–I am, most certainly, blunt and it is something my clients like about working with me. If you are not looking for blunt, working with me would not be good for you.

Regardless of my initial thoughts about working together, I would like to answer your rep question…sort of. To be clear, a photographer doesn’t “hire” a rep and can’t just go out and get one like buying a camera or hiring a designer. There are *many* more photographers who want reps than there are reps available. Getting a rep requires proving that you already are successful (billings above at least $150K or so a year is a start) and having a cohesive vision that the rep could market and sell to her/his clients. A good rep will use those tools (maybe even honing them in collaboration with you) and get your work seen by the right people, then negotiate good deals. A photographer’s work load often increases when s/he gets a rep–not only in shooting projects but in doing marketing-type things like producing mailers and better portfolios. A rep will not “do all the marketing stuff so you can shoot” as so many photographers think–you would still be doing loads of that. A good rep can make your business and a bad rep can kill it. Reps take a cut of fees and some do not do any production work. Each relationship is different and should be negotiated clearly in advance, and in a written contract, to ensure that all parties have a clear understanding of their roles and obligations.

I hope that helps and I wish you great success in your business. If you are still interested in working with me, please let me know and I will send you more info about how I work and pricing–but I will most certainly understand and respect your choice not to. As I said, it is very important for there to be a good fit between consultant and client and if it is not there you must, for YOUR business, seek out someone else who is a better fit. I recommend to all my potential clients that they speak with several consultants before choosing to work with anyone–and I pass on that same advice to you.

It is extremely unlikely that this potential client will still be interested in working with me and, even if so, I will need to see some signs of understanding and compatibility before I agree to it. Do I want to turn away work? No, of course not–in the general sense. Who wants to not make money today? But as I have so often said here on this blog and in my lectures and writings, saying “no” is often the right thing to do for your business. If I said “yes” to this client as things now stand, it would be a very difficult relationship and one which I doubt I could do my best work in. To do otherwise compromises two of my business’ core ethics (only do work to be proud of; and only work with people who respect me and my skills as much as I respect them and theirs).

By saying “I respect my business and me enough to stick to my ethics even if it means not getting a client today” I will feel better about me, my business, and I can take the time and energy I would have wasted on a difficult client and put it to someone who wants to work together for a better future. You can’t put a price on that.

Holidays?

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Did you take yesterday off (if you’re in the USA, that is)? And by “off” I mean you did not go into the office/studio, or check your professional email, or answer your phone (for business), or shoot, or do anything other than participate in a holiday observance and/or head for a relaxing corner somewhere and do whatever it is that you do to relax? It would have been better on several fronts if you had taken the day off.

The US work culture has become increasingly anti-worker (at whatever level–execs too!) in part by essentially “demanding” that doors remain open on holidays, phones answered, and “work” accomplished. The thing is, not enough real work gets done to validate the stress and resentment working a holiday causes. Workers (again, of all levels) resent having to work when the government isn’t (no cracks about it never really working, TYVM) and heaven forbid a manager takes the day but requires workers to come in–that’s a great way to doom a company. As for those of you with one-person companies, you need to take the days for, if nothing else, your mental health. A 3-day weekend will definitely help you get rid of some of the stress hormones in your system and you will feel happier (if you don’t guilt yourself for not working!).

Of course, there are the rare cases when the dream client calls on that one day; but you know what–if they really want you, they will be happy to leave a voicemail for you and will look forward to your return call on the next day. The chances of you losing a great gig because you didn’t work a holiday are so slim as to make lotto-playing seem like a sound investment.

Now, if you really want to be fair and fantastic about not working the holidays, you need to walk the other side of that walk as well–do not do things that require others to work that day. For example, do not shop on a holiday. I realized this as soon as I got to the grocery store yesterday morning–I didn’t need to shop that day but I did it because it was open and convenient for me (because I had the day off). The workers, though, I bet, would have been happier doing something with their families or friends rather than stocking a shelf or ringing up a self-absorbed customer like me (especially if they were not paid overtime/extra for the inconvenience).

If that store had been closed I would have waited and shopped there today, so it’s not like the company would have lost business. And in real shopping “emergencies,” there are the classic 24/7 shops.

This is my new commitment to my business: we will be closed on all holidays and on those holidays we will not do things that make others work unnecessarily (like shopping).

For your business, the next time a holiday comes about, take it off and encourage the other business-people and companies out there to do the same. We all can use the time to (re)build personal relationships and we’re all more effective and productive after time off–so it’s actually good for you, your employees, and your business.

Object value lesson

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

My brother John lives in a very nice Atlanta neighborhood. The houses are valued at about $500K and up (way up) and he and his wife know their neighbors, having lived there for many years. They are generally frugal, especially when it comes to cars, so they have an old Explorer and an old Honda Civic–both from the 90s, if memory serves. The Civic has over 200K miles on it, but it runs well and gets good mileage, so they haven’t seen any big reason to get rid of it. The Explorer they keep for moving large numbers of guests or loads, but besides that it sits on the street down the hill in front of their house, mostly. The Civic is parked in the driveway, within spitting distance of the house.

Today, someone stole the Civic.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because an object of little to no value to one person or group of people can still be of value. The thief of the Civic chose it for some reason–over all the BMWs and Volvos in the neighborhood and even the easier “get” of the Explorer (on the street, remember). For some reason, that Civic was of enough value to the thief that he (she) was willing to risk jail to get it.

So, to continue the analogy, often a photographer will say “I gave them all rights (at this low rate) because this image really won’t be of value to anyone else ever again” when, in fact, it might. You are probably the worst arbiter of what future value one of your images may have. Maybe you shoot Bob Smith CEO of TinyCorp for their sales brochure but, because it’s a tiny company, you give them unlimited usage (worse, unlimited exclusive; or even worse, sell them the copyright) for a small fee because you can’t see any future value. Then TinyCorp turns into Google and all the re-licensing income you could have earned goes *poof*. Or Bob Smith turns out to be a major crime boss and you have the only images of him…but you can’t license them because you gave your rights away.

Just because you can’t see the value in something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have great value. Another example: I’d rather be bludgeoned repeatedly with a frozen salmon than watch American Idol. I do not get the attraction at all. Obviously, it has great value to others. Go fig.

New Creative Lube Online

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

The 10th edition of Creative Lube is now available (also available on iTunes). This time, there’s a visual that you might find helpful. The link is mentioned in the podcast, but here it is directly for your pdf downloading pleasure.

Enjoy!

Take That, Larry Lessig!

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Mark Helprin has a great Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times. He discusses how it makes no sense for copyright owners to have to give up their rights (to the public domain) at any time and makes a call for Congress to extend copyright forever. His arguments are compelling and vital to those of us in creative fields.

To the arguments of people like Larry Lessig of the emperor’s-new-clothes-B.S. better known as “Creative Commons,” this Op-Ed points out how copyright protection does NOT harm creativity and creative growth, and also how the lack of protection doesn’t impede the big companies from getting rich–it only hurts the original creatives.

We must stand up for our rights…now…or beings like Lessig will most assuredly remove them piece by piece. Helprin’s article will help, but we need to promote it and ideas like it.

Another good tool

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Those of you who have been reading this blog may remember me mentioning jott.com as a very helpful tool (if you saw me speak, you definitely know I love it). Well, in the same vein, there is (under development) another good tool: the ambient clock (hat tip to Jane C. for the link).

This tool syncs with Google Calendar and Google Maps not only to let you know when your next appointment is, it lets you know when you should leave to get to it by calculating drive-time. Best part is how it changes color so that, at a glance, you can know if you need to pay attention to an upcoming event or if you’re free.

I love to explore tools like this and Jott (which is now indispensable to my creative/ADD husband). Maybe it’ll help you, maybe not. But it’s free and worth trying. If it helps you manage your time better, keep using it, if not, try something else.

Back and back at it

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

After one solid month and over 9300 train miles, I am back in my office. It was a great tour and I really appreciate everyone who worked so hard to make the events successful. I particularly want to thank everyone who organized the presentations, who came to them, who gave me feedback and asked questions, and those who signed up for individual meetings. I was honored by the work and enthusiasm of everyone.

Finally, I would like to thank all the companies who contributed as sponsors–especially Livebooks, Adbase, Workbook, and Paper Chase Printing. Without their financial support it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for groups like ASMP and APA to bring you speakers who can help your businesses both from the “practical” and the creative sides. Please consider using these companies and remember to tell them that you appreciate their continued sponsorship of your local chapters.

Now back in my office, and after having sorted through the pile of mail on my desk, I’m back at my regular work: for those of you on the Free Manuals in Your Email list, you know you got a new one yesterday evening (if you’re not on the list, why not? We never trade or sell our list); a new Creative Lube podcast will be posted before the end of the month (the next in the series on pricing); and I am hard at work preparing my part of the ASMP Strictly Business 2 events scheduled for next year (pdf link)…not to mention working with clients from all over the US/Canada (and abroad). There may even be yet another trip this year…later this year…and I’m already hard at trying to see if I can make that happen.

Stay tuned, as they say.

Balance, Grasshopper

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

In the Beyond PMS talks I’ve been giving, I emphasize issues of time management, the separation of work/not-work, and the importance of taking care of yourself in order to be able to be more fully “there” for your business, as well as marketing issues for the commercial photographer. Some of this sounds a bit flaky, especially coming from someone who makes her home in Southern California, but there is plenty of sound science to these points.

Besides, I’m a Midwesterner who just happens to live in California, so I’m actually darn practical.

Anyway, these are really important issues, these balance and health issues, and not ones I’ve pulled out of my, er, hat. I read lots of articles on productivity, efficiency, management, etc., from many sources before I distill the info and share it with my audiences. Most of them have some component of health and stress management.

Recently, for example, I came across some interesting articles on work/life balance and stress issues from the Mayo Clinic (not exactly a bunch of flakes there!). The first deals with how important it is to say “no” and how to do it, the second is about drawing the line between work and life (or as I call it “work” and “not-work”). While these articles are written to speak to employees rather than the self-employed, the information holds very true (in fact, the issues are often even greater for the self-employed, I think).

Think about one small change you can make today to reduce stress and/or improve your work/not-work balance. Can you commit to stopping work at 5:30pm today–no matter what? How about committing to a “date night” once a week with your significant other for the rest of the year? Maybe you could promise yourself to play a game for 15 minutes every day or to take a walk for 30 minutes at lunch tomorrow. There are lots of little things you can do–pick one and try it on; if it works for you, keep at it and try another. The cumulative effect will be impressive over time.

More importantly, you will do better work and be happier.

On to the last stop

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

After a wonderful few days in DC, I’m off to Boston today. I speak there tomorrow and do personal meetings both tomorrow and Friday. Then my tour will be complete (just a long trip home).

Last night I gave my presentation to the ASMP-DC folks and, I think, we had a pretty good turn-out and reactions were very positive. Corey Miller from Livebooks joined me (and will also be in Boston) and presented his company’s products/services–which, if anything, actually helps to reinforce much of what I have to tell people in my spiel. If, between the two of us, we can get a couple of people from each place to give up their old, klunky sites and use Livebooks, that alone will significantly help their businesses. If they also choose to follow some of my other advice, of course I think they’ll be that much more better off. Justone or two small changes can make the difference.

But enough of my “preaching.”

I’d like to thank Irene Owsley, Paul Fetters, Mike Morgan, Patrick O’Brien, and everyone else at ASMP-DC for all their hard work, kindness, and help on this part of my trip. You’ve been lovely hosts. I’d also like to thank John Harrington (my soon-to-be ASMP Strictly Business partner-in-presenting) for the ride back to my hotel after the event and the informative discussion (about everything from GPS to photography to the Queen).

Hospitality

Monday, May 7th, 2007

On this tour I’ve stayed in 6 hotels and I’ve had good customer service experiences in all of them, until now.

The place I’m currently in is, absolutely, a very cool and interesting hotel. It’s in several old buildings with unique rooms and furnishings. Its dining room is excellent. But its hotel guest customer service is not very good.

One of the few absolute needs I have is that, if I’m going to be meeting clients at my hotel, it must have internet (preferably wireless, but anything will do). This place promised that. In my (original) room, I could barely get a signal–1Mbit rate–which isn’t even enough connection to check my email, let alone look at photographers’ websites. Finding this out after having hauled my own luggage up 6 flights of stairs (3rd floor, but wrong staircase the first time–and no offer of help from the staff), I contacted the front desk. The guy there, the same one who didn’t offer to help with the bags, started telling me how he didn’t think there could be a problem. I assured him there was. He started saying how with his N-card in his PC laptop he got great connections and that the hotel was going to upgrade soon to N–I said I had a Mac with a G-card anyway so the B & G-based router should be fine but I wasn’t getting a signal in my room. He then told me how metal Powerbooks blocked signals–I showed him my plastic iBook.

This went on and on. He did not want to consider the possibility that the room they put me in simply did not get a decent wireless signal. The next morning, I put my foot down and insisted on being moved at the very least. They switched me to a first floor room with a nice strong signal. Finally.

They still didn’t offer to help with the bags, though, and the same guy behind the desk still insisted that the wireless problem was “impossible.”

The point of this venting is that even if I had been totally in the wrong about the wireless issue, the hotel handled it terribly poorly. The customer is not always right, but the customer’s issues must be taken seriously and fixed if possible–even if they seem silly or unnecessary to the vendor. If you have a client who says (for example) they’re afraid you’re going to do X or Y, even when you know you’re not, don’t try to shut the client up–instead ask the client “What can I do to help you feel more assured?” or the like. If you can do whatever they asked, do it (even if you think it’s silly). That builds respect and trust and that builds successful relationships.

And that, of course, builds long-term clients.

Remember, a bad experience gets circulated a lot more than a good one. I’ve already told at least 8 people my full (there is more) bad story at this hotel–and the name of the place (which I have omitted from this tale). You don’t want that to happen to your business.